Coaching or Therapy — What’s the Difference?

The idea of coaching is different than therapy
The idea of coaching is different than therapy
Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

There is an important difference between life coaching and therapy or counseling.

Of course, there’s the obvious — therapy, at least in the United States, is offered only by someone who has a license in psychology and/or psychiatry. In other words, is that Life Coaches are NOT health care professionals or providers. And, before I go on, let me be clear. I am neither a therapist, nor a psychologist, nor am I a psycho-therapist or a counselor and I don’t play any of these on TV or anywhere else. I am what’s known as a Life Coach.

It’s a matter of focus or emphasis

The focus or emphasis is different.

Those who do therapy are health care professionals. They’ve worked long and hard to learn how to be a psychologist, psychiatrist or marriage and family consular.

They usually start by looking for a diagnosis of some sort. Although not all deal with illness or disease, and these days more and more are aiming at helping patients with lifestyle choices, they tend to think of the people they help as patients — as if something’s wrong with them that needs to be treated or changed, or cured.

Life Coaches, on the other hand, are more likely to take the person where they are and help them discover more about who they are and what they want then help them achieve those goal

Therapy may be what’s needed

I’m a believer in good therapy. I’ve used it myself. More than once, and may again. Finding the right therapist is often a matter of luck, and at least for me trusting my intuition. In other words I’m picky about therapists as I think we all should be.

As a Life Coach I don’t hesitate to suggest therapy if I think my client would benefit.

Here’s why I think Life Coaching is different than therapy

Here’s why I think my Life Coaching is different from therapy. I start with the premise that the client is okay just as they are. I believe that the client actually has the solutions they’re looking for right inside them.

Sure, they want something or many somethings to be different than it seems to be right now. But they are basically fine, whole and enough just as they are. Even before we begin, I hold them mentally in the position of knowing what they need.

My job is to listen deeply. Then I ask all sorts of questions.

Some of the questions are simply to deepen my understanding of what, exactly, changes they want to make. Then I question them about what they are expecting from the desired change. I ask what’s preventing them from making those changes by themselves and finally I ask them how they think I can help.

It’s not unusual for their solution to surface during these questions. Sure, I don’t hesitate to make suggestions, but more often than not they are simply a reframe of something client already senses. As we begin to see what would move them in the direction they want to go we work out some accountability.


Accountability is a great tool and may be the key to successful Life Coaching. Let’s look at a simple example:

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

Suppose a coaching client wants to be better organized and after talking it through, recognizes that a detailed calendar of the next week or month would help. They decide develop or at least begin to develop such a calendar and this is what they choose to be accountable for in their next session. If in the next session they’ve started or even completed the calendar we celebrate and move on to something else. If they haven’t we take a look at what went wrong and how it might be different.

How it might be different ranges from deciding not to do a calendar, through doing a calendar for a week, to making a bigger effort to get the calendar at least started.

Another example might be someone who wants to stop feeling guilty about spending money on themselves. First I’d help them define more precisely what they think the problem is. For instance, it might be that they’re worried they spend too much money on themselves, or not enough, or about how they spend that money. Then we’d talk about their ideal and examine the difference.

I’ve had clients be surprised that there was very little difference between their ideal and what they were actually spending and horrified at the size of the difference. We talk about that and I guide the client to setting a goal for the change they want to make. Week by week we track their progress, always moving in the direction the client chooses.

Huge variety

One of the things I enjoy about coaching is the variety of problems or situations my clients bring me. I’ve helped them deal with everything from bunch grass (a particularly difficult weed often found in Oregon) to learning to write with small children in the house. It’s delightful to help people work through their perceived problems to their own solutions.

I think it’s that assumption of mine that the client knows what they need even if they can’t see or actualize it yet that makes the real difference between therapy and Life Coaching.

What do you think?

Love and blessings,

Anne Wayman, writer and life coach

Originally published at on November 1, 2017.

Writer, life and writing coach, book ghostwriter, Grandmother, Buddhist. Liberal who listens to the other side, political

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